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Alex Rowell

A walk through a European “no-go zone”

Schilderswijk, in The Hague, has seen several pro-ISIS demonstrations in recent months

“De Schreeuw” (“The Scream”), a sculpture memorial to Theo van Gogh, near the Amsterdam street where he was murdered by an Islamist in 2004. It now has “J’étais Charlie” pasted on it (NOW/Alex Rowell)

In The Hague last week, following a media seminar kindly arranged by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, I took a fifteen-minute walk from my hotel in the city center to a neighborhood that, were certain Dutch newspapers to be believed, I might never have returned from alive.


Schilderswijk – or “the sharia triangle,” as it has been nicknamed – is presumably the sort of locale the now-much-ridiculed Fox News guest Steven Emerson had in mind when he spoke darkly of “no-go zones” for non-Muslims across Europe earlier this month. Last year, its residents held several demonstrations during which ISIS flags were raised and slogans such as “Death to the Jews” were chanted. Of the more than 100 Dutch nationals who have gone to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq, dozens were raised on its streets. A local imam, a Syrian named Fawaz Jneid born in Lebanon’s Tripoli, has called for the death of Dutch-Somali atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and is believed to have had ties to the murderer of Ali’s friend and colleague, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, shot and stabbed dead in Amsterdam in 2004. The few remaining Jewish residents say they live in fear.


All in all, a tough square to circle with The Hague’s brand as ‘the international city of peace and justice,’ one might think. Yet at no point during my 45-minute stroll up and down Schilderswijk’s handful of streets did I feel remotely uncomfortable. On the contrary, to my eye its Turkish pastry vendors and Arabic-named cafés gave it a winsome international flavor, invoking fond memories of Istanbul and, say, Amman. Its residents ran the spectrum from women scarfed in black to unveiled hipsters with nose-piercings. Yes, its aging brick housing units bespoke modest income levels, but I happen not to have anything against the working class – and have certainly seen far less inviting estates in countless non-Muslim parts of Britain.


It was a feeling that only magnified when, later the same day, I paced the ground southeast of Amsterdam’s city center where Theo van Gogh was assassinated. This commercial and residential street on the corner of the spacious Oosterpark (where a sculpture erected in his memory now bears a placard with the words “J’étais Charlie”) is the very picture of European privilege: tall, stone neo-Renaissance architecture; fair-trade coffee and muffin boutiques; the gentle tinkle of trams’ bells as they glide by. Here the population, including a sizeable Muslim contingent, is of a plainly higher socioeconomic standing than that of Schilderswijk. It’s difficult to conceive of any crime at all occurring here, let alone the shooting, stabbing and near-beheading of an artist for blasphemy.


Yet it is thus that appearances deceive, for the facts are the facts. As preposterous as it may seem to think of so obviously comfortable a place as Western Europe being a battleground in an international Islamist war, still no one with a sense of history could avoid feeling, while treading the terrain where just months ago the black flag of sectarian child-rape and woman-stoning was waved enthusiastically, that these were frontlines of a kind.


We also now know, after Charlie Hebdo, that they were warnings of worse to come. In this way the stupidity of Fox News does us a double disservice: first by outraging our intelligence, and second by diverting us from the gravity of what’s at stake. Of course Birmingham, for instance, isn’t a Mecca in The Midlands, but when Emerson said there were “sharia courts” established in Britain, he was essentially right. While it goes without saying there can be no place in Europe for any racial and/or religious bigotry against Muslim citizens, equally the very real – and evidently growing – menace of Eurojihadism will not be overcome by snickering at American crackpots.

“De Schreeuw” (“The Scream”), a sculpture memorial to Theo van Gogh, near the Amsterdam street where he was murdered by an Islamist in 2004. It now has “J’étais Charlie” pasted on it (NOW/Alex Rowell)

It’s difficult to conceive of any crime at all occurring here, let alone the shooting, stabbing and near-beheading of an artist for blasphemy”